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MEMLINC 



W^ 




MASTERPIECES 

IN COLOUR 



MASTERPIECES 
IN COLOUR 

EDITED BY - - 
T. LEMAN HARE 



HANS MEMLINC 

(?) 1425--1494 



In the Same Series 



Artist. 
VELAZQUEZ. 
REYNOLDS. 
TURNER. 
ROMNEY. 
GREUZE. 
BOTTICELLL 
ROSSETTL 
BELLINL 
FRA ANGELICO. 
REMBRANDT. 
LEIGHTON. 
RAPHAEL. 
HOLMAN HUNT. 
TITIAN 
MILLAIS. 
CARLO DOLCI. 
GAINSBOROUGH. 
TINTORETTO. 
LUINL 

FRANZ HALS. 
VAN DYCK. 

LEONARDO DA VINCL 
RUBENS. 
WHISTLER. 
HOLBEIN. 
BURNE-JONES. 
VIG^E LE BRUN. 
CHARDIN. 
FRAGONARD. 
MEMLINC. 
CONSTABLE. 



Author. 
S. L. Bensusan. 
S. L. Bensusan. 
C. Lewis Hind. 
C. Lewis Hind. 
Alvs Evre Macklin. 
Henky B. Binns. 

LUCIEN PlSSARRO. 

George Hay. 

James Mason. 

Josef Israels. 

A. Lvs Baldry. 

Paul G. Konody. 

Mary E. Coleridge. 

S. L. Bensusan. 

A. Lys Baldry. 

George Hay. 

Max Rothschild. 

S. L. Bensusan. 

James Mason. 

Edgcumbe Staley. 

Percy M. Turner. 

M. W. Brockwell. 

S. L. Bensusan. 

T. Martin Wood. 

S. L. Bensusan. 

A. Lys Baldry. 

C. Haldake MacFall. 

Paul G. Konody. 

C. Haldane MacFall. 

W. H. J. & J. C. Weale. 

C. Lewis Hind. 



In Preparation 



J. F. MILLET. 

ALBERT dORER. 

RAEBURN. 

BOUCHER. 

WATTEAU. 

MURILLO. 



Percy M. Turner. 

Herbert Furst. 

James L. Caw. 

C. Haldane MacFall. 

C. Lewis Hind. 

S. L. Bensusan. 



JOHN S. SARGENT, R.A. T. Martin Wood. 
And Others. 



PLATE I.-OUR LADY AND CHILD. 

(Frontispiece.) 

Right panel of a diptych, painted in 1487 for Martin van 
Nieuwenhove. It is now in Saint John's Hospital, Bruges. 



MEMUNC 

BY W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE 

ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT 
REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR 




LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK 
NEW YORK: FKEDEllICK A. STOKES CO. 






(^4^^ 



CONTENTS 

Chap. Page 

I. Hans Memlinc ii 

II. Early Days and Training .... 19 

III. Earliest Works 25 

IV. Characteristics of His Early Works 31 
V. The Maturity of His Art . . 36 

VI. Masterpieces and Death • • • • 53 

VII. Effacement and Vindication of His Types 66 



▼H 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

Plate Page 

I. Our Lady and Child, 1487 . . Frontispiece 

(Saint John's Hospital, Bruges) 

11. Adoration of the Magi, 1479 ... 14 

(Saint John's Hospital, Bruges) 

III. Saints Christopher, Maurus, and Giles, 1484 24 

(Town Museum, Bruges) 

IV. Portrait of Nicholas di Forzore Spinelli, 

holding- a medal 34 

(Antwerp Museum) 

V. Portrait of Martin van Nieuwenhove, 1487 

(companion to I.) 40 

(Saint John's Hospital, Bruges) 

VI. One Panel of the Shrine of Saint Ursula, 

1489 • 50 

(Saint John's Hospital, Bruges) 

VII. Portrait of an Old Lady .... 60 

(Louvre, Paris) 

VIII. The Blessed Virgin and Child, with Saint 

George and the Donor . . . .70 

(National Gallery, London, No. 686) 



MEMLINC 



HANS MEMLINC 

ALREADY, before the advent of the House 
of Burgundy, Bruges had attained the 
height of her prosperity. From a small 
military outpost of civilisation, built to stay the 
advance of the ravaging Northmen, she had 
developed through four short centuries of a 
strenuous existence into one of the three leading 
cities of northern Europe. Born to battle, 
fighting had been her abiding lot with but 
scant intervals of peace, and as it had been 
under the rule of her long line of Flemish 
counts, so it continued with increased 
vehemence during the century of French 
domination that followed, the incessant warring 
of suzerain and vassal being further com- 
plicated and embittered by internecine strife 

II 



12 MEMLINC 

with the rival town of Ghent. But she emerged 
from the ordeal with her vitality unsapped, her 
industrial capabilities unabated, her commercial 
supremacy unshaken. Her population had 
reached the high total of a hundred and fifty 
thousand; she overlorded an outport with a 
further thirty thousand inhabitants, a seaport, 
and a number of subordinate townships. The 
staple of wool was established at her centre, and 
she was the chief emporium of the cities of the 
Hanseatic League. Vessels from all quarters 
of the globe crowded her harbours, her basins, 
and canals, as many as one hundred and fifty 
being entered inwards in the twenty-four hours. 
Factories of merchants from seventeen king- 
doms were settled there as agents, and twenty 
foreign consuls had palatial residences within 
her walls. Her industrial life was a marvel 
of organisation, where fifty -four incorporated 
associations or guilds with a membership of 
many thousands found constant employment. 

The artistic temperament of the people had 
necessarily developed on the ruder lines, in the 
architectural embellishment of the city, the 
beautifying of its squares and streets, its 
churches and chapels, its municipal buildings 



PLATE II.— ADORATION OF THE MAGI. 

This, one of the master's finest works, was painted in X479 for 
Brother John Floreins, Master of Saint John's Hospital, Bruges, 
where it may be seen. 



MEMLINC 15 

and guild halls, its markets and canal embank- 
ments. "The squares/' we are told, "were 
adorned with fountains, its bridges with statues 
in bronze, the public buildings and many of the 
private houses with statuary and carved work, 
the beauty of which was heightened and brought 
out by polychrome and gilding; the windows 
were rich with storied glass, and the walls of 
the interiors adorned with paintings in distemper, 
or hung with gorgeous tapestry." But of the 
highest forms of Art — of literature, of music, and 
of painting — there was slender token. The 
atmosphere in which the Flemings had pursued 
their destinies was little calculated to develop 
any other than the harder and more matter-of- 
fact side of their nature. True, here as else- 
where, and from the earliest period of her 
history the great monastic institutions which 
dotted the country had done much for the 
cultivation of Art, as the remains of wood 
sculpture, mural paintings, and numerous illumi- 
nated manuscripts amply testify. But no great 
school of painting had arisen or was even 
possible, so true is it that the development of 
the artistic instincts of the community require 
the contemplative repose and fostering inspira- 



i6 MEMLINC 

tion of peace. In the truest sense of the term 
the Flemings were not a cultured artistic race: 
they had certainly a high standard of taste, but 
their artistic sense was appreciative rather than 
creative — even so, a notable advance for a 
nation of warriors and merchants. 

With the succession of the House of 
Burgundy to the French domination an entirely 
new era was ushered in. If the ambition of 
this new line of princes was unbounded, equally 
so was the success which attended its pursuit; 
their authority increased by leaps and bounds, 
and soon their court had become the wealthiest 
and most powerful in Europe. The high notions 
they entertained of their own dignity brooked 
no compeer in the pomp and glitter of their 
state. The display the guild and merchant 
princes and foreign representatives were capable 
of they should outdo: the splendour of their 
sovereignty should blur the brilliancy of mere 
civic ostentation. But while they revelled in 
the outward show of their supremacy, they 
viewed with jealous eye the great wealth and 
large measure of liberties enjoyed by their 
subjects. Their needs were great, the re- 
sources of the people commensurate; and 



MEMLINC 17 

in the alternate confiscation and resale of these 
liberties they found a remunerative source of 
revenue. But if the dukes were arrogant and 
unscrupulous, their subjects were no cravens, 
and civic shrewdness often proved more than a 
match for ducal craft. A fine sense of humour, 
however, suggested the policy of keeping these 
lusty burghers fully diverted the while they were 
not being bled or chastened : hence the constant 
recurrence of pacifications and triumphal entries, 
of regal processions and gorgeous tournaments, 
of public banquets and bewildering revels. It 
was an era of pomp and pageantry unparalleled 
in history, the success of which required the 
services of the highest talents of the day — the 
foremost artists to enhance its magnificence, 
the leading writers to chronicle its marvels. 

It was Duke Philip III. who requisitioned the 
services of John van Eyck and showered on him 
bounty and patronage, and if his reign had 
proved as uneventful as it was the reverse, 
Philip's name would still survive in the reflected 
glory of this prince of painting. The declining 
days of the great duke, stricken with imbecility, 
certainly offered no inducement to foreign 
artists on the lookout for court patronage But 



i8 MEMLINC 

with his death, on the 15th of June 1467, the 
entire prospect was changed. Charles the Bold 
now succeeded to the dukedom: his solemn 
entry into the Flemish capital took place on 
Palm Sunday of the year following — an occasion 
marked by brilliant jousts and tournaments — and 
his home-coming with his bride, Margaret of 
York, some three months later. These events, 
the marriage festivities notably, called for a 
great array of talent, and among the leading 
artists engaged in planning and executing the 
magnificent decorations indulged in we find 
Peter Coustain and John Hennequart, the ducal 
painters; James Daret and Philip Truffin of 
Tournay; Francis Stoc and Livin van Lathem 
of Brussels; Daniel De Rycke and Hugo Van 
der Goes of Ghent; Govart of Antwerp; and John 
Du Chateau of Ypres. And here Hans Memlinc 
enters on the scene, already then a master- 
painter and accomplished artist, but of whom 
no previous record, of whose lifework no earlier 
trace, has been discovered. 



11 

EARLY DAYS AND TRAINING 

AS to where and when Memlinc was born, 
where he served his apprenticeship, and 
with whom he worked as a journeyman 
no documentary evidence has yet been dis- 
covered, and no one can confidently assert; but 
there exists a sufficiency of presumptive evidence 
to warrant certain conclusions with the help of 
which to construct a working biography. It 
appears probable that the family came from 
Memelynck, near Alkmaar, in north Holland, 
and settled at Deutichem, in Guelderland; and, 
on the strength of an entry copied from the 
diary kept by an ecclesiastical notary and clerk 
of the Chapter of Saint Donatian at Bruges 
during the years 1491 to 1498, that they subse- 
quently removed to the ecclesiastical principality 
of Mainz. The subject of this monograph is 
likely to have been born, at some date between 
1425 and 1435, either at some place within that 



20 MEMLINC 

principality, or at Deutichem previous to his 
parents' removal. From our knowledge of the 
guild system which obtained in the middle ages 
throughout the north of Europe with but slight 
variation in the conditions of training and 
apprenticeship, and taking into consideration 
besides the typical characteristics of Memlinc's 
work, I it appears probable that he served his 
apprenticeship at Mainz, and afterwards worked 
at Coin as a journeyman, and this opinion is 
confirmed by the outstanding fact that in all the 
wealth of architectural embellishment in which 
his pictures abound the only town outside 
Bruges whose buildings are faithfully reproduced 
is this noted centre of art. That he should have 
travelled thither for the especial purpose of 
securing an accurate background for the first, 
fifth, and sixth panels of the Shrine of Saint 
Ursula, and not have cared to obtain as faithful 
settings for the incidents of the second and 
fourth panels ascribed to Basel, or for that of the 
third panel located at Rome, will scarcely stand 
the test of criticism. A study of these panels 
evidences an intimate acquaintance with the 
architectural beauties of Coin, a knowledge 
obviously acquired at first hand during a period 



MEMLINC 21 

of his life devoted to Art. \/The master under 
whom he worked was in all probability the 
Suabian, Stephen Lothener, of Mersburg, near 
Constance, /who had settled in Coin before 1442, 
and died there in 1452. It is presumable that 
Memlinc may not have completed his studies 
at the time of that painter's death. In the 
circumstances one can but conjecture as to 
where he completed the necessary training 
before attaining to the rank of a master-painter. 
Vasari and Guicciardini both assert that 
Memlinc was at some time or other a pupil of 
Roger De la Pasture (Van der Weyden), and, 
as this master returned from Italy in 1450, he 
may have come across Memlinc at Coin and 
engaged him as an assistant. It is, however, 
quite possible that Memlinc stayed on at Coin 
until Lothener's death in 1452 and then went 
to Brussels, doubtless passing by Louvain and 
possibly working for a time under Dirk Bouts. 
Certain it is, judging from the many points of 
similarity in their work, that Memlinc came 
under Roger's influence for a space sufficiently 
long to leave a strong impress of Jthat master's 
methods on his art. Memlinc's contemporary, 
Rumwold De Doppere, has left it on record that 



22 MEMLINC 

he was "then considered to be the most skilful 
and excellent painter in the whole of Christen- 
dom " ; and if Memlinc had left nothing to per- 
petuate his fame but such gems as the Shrine 
of Saint Ursula, at Bruges, the "Passion of 
Our Lord," in the Royal Museum at Turin, that 
remarkable altarpiece, "Christ the Light of the 
World,** in the Royal Gallery at Munich, or 
even, as Fromentin suggests, only those two 
figures of Saint Barbara and Saint Katherine 
in the large altarpiece at Bruges, he would 
need nothing of the reflected glory of his alleged 
master to enhance his renown. Always assum- 
ing Memlinc to have stood in this relation to 
De la Pasture, Sir Martin Conway came to a 
happy conclusion when he wrote that Roger*s 
greatest glory is that he produced such a 
pupil — "that Memlinc the artist was Roger's 
greatest work," 



PLATE III.— SAINTS CHRISTOPHER, MAURUS, AND 

GILES. 

This, the central panel of an altarpiece, painted in 1484 for William 
Moreel, Burgomaster of Bruges, is now in the Town Gallery at 
Bruges. 



Ill 

EARLIEST WORKS 

THE first painting to bespeak his industry 
is now supposed to have been the 
famous triptych of the Last Judgment 
in the Church of Saint Mary at Danzig, com- 
menced after 1465 and finished in 1472 or early 
in 1473. 

Few pictures have evoked more controversy 
or been coupled with the names of more artists 
than the Danzig triptych. The entry in a local 
church register of 1616 which asserts that it 
was painted in Brabant by John and George 
van Eichen, an ascription varied at a subsequent 
period by substituting the name of James for 
John, carries no more weight than usually 
attaches to popular traditions, and was generally 
disregarded by the connoisseurs and experts 
who have debated the question for more than 
a hundred years. The names of Albert van 
Ouwater, Michael Wohlgemuth, Hugh Van der 



26 MEMLINC 

Goes, Hubert and John van Eyck, Roger De la 
Pasture, and Dirk Bouts have all been canvassed 
with more or less assurance. Memlinc's name 
was first associated with the work in 1843, by 
Hotho, whose opinion met with wide acceptance, 
a notable convert to his view being Dr. Waagen, 
who in i860 declared the triptych to be "not 
only the most important work by Memlinc 
that has come down to our time, but also 
one of the masterpieces of the whole school, 
being far richer and better composed than the 
picture of the same subject by Roger De la 
Pasture at Beaune, though that master's 
influence is still perceptible," though two years 
later he recognised in the figures the influence 
of Dirk Bouts; and in 1899 Kammerer as 
emphatically declared that "no one who is 
acquainted with Memlinc's authentic works can 
possibly doubt that this picture is the work 
of his hand." In the absence of contemporary 
documentary evidence, and with the donors of 
the picture still unidentified, confronted moreover 
with the fact that in its composition the Danzig 
triptych differs altogether from Memlinc's 
authenticated paintings, many experienced 
judges still hesitated to admit the claim put 



MEMLINC 27 

forward in his behalf. But the recent discoveries 
made by Dr. A. Warburg leave little room for 
doubt. In the fifteenth century there was a 
considerable Italian colony at Bruges, and the 
powerful Florentine firm of the Medici, whose 
ramifications extended over all Europe, had a 
branch establishment there in the name of Piero 
and Giovanni de* Medici, the acting manager of 
which from 1455 to 1466 was Angelo di Jacopo 
Tani, who, after serving as bookkeeper of the 
firm*s agency in London, had been transferred to 
Bruges in 1450. Tani may have taken Memlinc 
into his household with a view to the production 
of the triptych under his own eye. The absence 
of Memhnc's name from the guild registers of 
the period lends probability to the theory that 
he was employed by Charles the Bold, for ducal 
service exempted painters settling in Bruges 
from the obligation of purchasing the right of 
citizenship, and of becoming members of the 
local guild. It is presumed that Tani engaged 
Memlinc's services at some date after 1465 to 
paint or, if the work had been commenced by 
some other painter, to complete this picture. 
While the dexter shutter, representing the 
reception of the elect by Saint Peter at the 



28 MEMLINC 

gate of Heaven, can only have been designed by 
a pupil of Lothener, it is equally certain that 
the upper portion, of the central panel must have 
been designed by so^ie one who had worked 
under Bouts or De la Pasture. In 1466 Tani 
visited Florence, and there married Katherine,^ 
daughter of William Tanagli. As their portraits 
and arms are on the exterior of the shutters, 
these cannot have been commenced before they 
were both in Bruges, some time in 1467, the date 
inscribed on the slab covering a tomb on which a 
woman is seated. The technique and colouring 
of the entire work are Netherlandish, a^wi in the 
opinion of the most trustworthy critics are 
certainly the work of Memlinc. The painting 
completed, it was, at the commencement of 
1473, despatched by sea to Florence, but the 
vessel bearing it was captured by freebooters, 
and the picture as part of the prize carried 
off to Danzig. 

The patronage of the agent of the Medici was 
of course of incalculable advantage to a rising 
artist, and doubtless it served to secure for 
Memlinc the interest of Spinelli of Arezzo — 
whose portrait, now in the van Ertborn collection 
at the Antwerp Museum, he painted in the latter 



MEMLINC 29 

half of 1467 or the beginning of 1468, when this 
Italian medallist was in the service of Charles the 
Bold as seal engraver — and to bring his growing 
reputation to the notice of the ducal court. The 
negotiations for the hand of Margaret of York, 
begun in December 1466, and unduly protracted 
owing no doubt to the mental incapacity of Duke 
Philip III., were of course resumed at the ex- 
piration of the period of court mourning after his 
death on 15th June 1467. Following the example 
of his father, Charles may have commissioned 
Memlinc to accompany his ambassadors to the 
English court for the purpose of securing an up- 
to-date portrait of his intended consort. In the 
circumstances Memlinc would certainly have 
made the acquaintance of Sir John Donne, for 
the Donnes were ardent Yorkists high in the 
royal favour, and moreover the brother of Sir 
John's wife, William, first Lord Hastings, filled 
the office of Lord Chamberlain to the king. But 
the triptych in the Chats worth collection, though 
the outcome of this meeting, could not have 
been executed at the time, as the period of 
Memlinc's visit would have been restricted to 
carrying out the ducal instructions. An oppor- 
tunity for the necessary sittings was afforded 



30 MEMLINC 

later, when Sir John Donne, accompanied by his 
wife and daughter, journeyed to Bruges in the 
suite of the princess to assist at the wedding 
celebrations in July 1468. The omission of the 
sons from the family group in the triptych is 
sufficiently accounted for by the fact that they 
were in Wales at the time. 



IV 

CHARACTERISTICS OF HIS EARLY WORKS 

TO the art student these earliest of Mem- 
Iinc*s paintings — the Donne triptych 
in particular — are replete with interest. 
In the first place, they attest the powers then 
already at the painter^s command as an exponent 
of his art, and they further serve as a standard 
of comparison by which to judge his afterwork. 
Memlinc was' pre-eminently a religious artist, 
deeply imbued with Scriptural lore and well 
versed in hagiography, a fund of knowledge 
sublimated in the ^ beautiful mysticism of the 
school of Coin which had early subjugated his 
poetic temperament; His conception of the 
Madonna, based on a fervent appreciation of the 
purity, the tenderness, and the majesty of her 
nature was deeply rooted, and it led him to 
evolve the definite type which he presents to us 
in the Chatsworth picture, to which he faithfully 
adheres henceforth, at times enhancing its beauty 

31 



32 MEMLINC 

— as witness the triptych in the Louvre and the 
altarpiece of Saint John's Hospital at Bruges— 
until his ideal culminates in that marvellous 
embodiment of her supreme attributes preserved 
to us in the Van Nieuwenhove diptych. The 
Divine Infant, it is true, may not appeal to one 
in the same way as do the charming pictures of 
infant life in which the southern artists excelled. 
Whatever may be said of the fine men and in- 
tellectual women of the race, the northern type 
of babyhood cannot by any stretch of courtesy, 
apart from a mother's loving weakness, be de- 
scribed as graceful. Still Memlinc's conceptions 
of the Infant Saviour rank high in point of in- 
tellectuality, of expressiveness of eye, of grace of 
movement and charm of expression. The Donne 
triptych besides, from the point of view from 
which we are now considering it, is a valuable 
asset for the study of the impersonations of saiirts 
whom we find constaritly recurring in his paint- 
ings : to wit. Saint Katherine and Saint Barbara 
— (Fromentin's enthusiastic appreciation of these 
figures in the large altarpiece at Bruges has 
already been quoted) — Saint John the Baptist 
and Saint John the Evangelist, and Saint 
Christopher. The same may be said of his 



PLATE IV.— NICHOLAS SPINELLI OF AREZZO. 

Nicholas Spinelli, born 1430, was in 1467-68 in Flanders, in the 
service of Charles the Bold as seal engraver. He died in 1499 at 
Lyons, where this portrait was acquired by Denon. He is depicted 
holding- a medal, showing a profile head of the Emperor Nero, 
with the inscription **NERO CLAVDius CiESAR AVGustus 
GERManicus TRibunicia Potestati IMPERator." It was bought 
from the heirs of Denon by M. van Ertborn, who bequeathed it to 
the Museum at Antwerp. 



V 



MEMLINC 35 

angels. Taken from another standpoint, these 
early paintings of Memlinc are invaluable testi- 
mony of his rare gift for portraiture. It was a 
gift which may almost be taken as the specific 
appanage of the fifteenth century painters of the 
Netherlandish school. Some, like John van 
Eyck, used it with scrupulous exactitude, scorn- 
ing to veil the palpable truth that at the moment 
and usually obtruded itself on his painstaking eye ; 
others, and Memlinc prominently of their number, 
loved rather to seize on the fitful manifestation 
of the inner man and to idealise him. Both 
artists, taking them as types, were honest and 
true to their art, notwithstanding that the 
resulting truth in each case is deceiving, except 
we have very particular information regarding 
the individual portrayed. In any event, the 
Tani and Spinelli portraits are fine examples of 
the class, though perhaps Sir John Donne's 
appeals to us more because of the fuller know- 
ledge we have of the man. And finally, both the 
Antwerp and the Chatsworth paintings afford us 
beautiful examples of Memlinc's art as a 
landscape painter, and in this respect certainly 
it may be safely asserted that he never pro- 
duced better work. 



THE MATURITY OF HIS ART 

FROM the consideration of these three 
works executed in the sixties we pass on 
to a decade of more notable achievement. 
The public rejoicings which had inaugurated the 
new reign were already dimmed to recollection 
in the disquieting civil and national com- 
plications that ensued, culminating, in the 
disastrous battle of Nancy on 5th January 1477, 
in which the ducal troops were put to rout and 
Charles himself lost his life. He was succeeded 
by his only daughter, Mary, who on 19th August 
of the same year by her marriage to Maximilian, 
son of the Emperor Frederick IV., brought 
Flanders under the rule of the House of Austria, 
and thus involved the Flemish burghers in that 
lamentable struggle which, after many alter- 
nations of fortune, was one of the chief causes 
that led to the downfall of Bruges. Memlinc, 

as a newcomer without rooted interests or 

36 



MEMLINC 37 

strong political bent, wholly wrapt in his art, 
naturally steered clear of political entanglements, 
though ready enough on occasion to take his 
share of the public burden which the fortune of 
war imposed, as witness his contribution to the 
loan raised to cover the expenses of the military 
operations against France. But his placid dis- 
position shrank from the heat and ferment of 
public life, though his sympathies no doubt were 
all with the burghers and guildmen with whom 
he associated, among whom he found the most 
liberal supporters of his art to the exclusion of 
court patronage, and from whose womankind he 
selected a helpmate. Memlinc married later in 
life than was the custom of his day, when it was 
usual for craftsmen to take unto themselves a 
wife^ at the expiration of their journeymanship, 
after they had established their competence, paid 
the indispensable guild fees, and taken the no less 
essential vows to bear themselves honestly and to 
labour their work as in the sight of God; for it was 
only at some date between 1470 and 1480, when 
already a man of middle age, that he led Anne, 
daughter of Louis De Valkenaere, to the altar. 
It is impossible to determine the year, but on the 
loth of December 1495 we find the guardians of 



38 MEMLINC 

the three children of the marriage acting on their 
behalf in the local courts in the winding-up of 
their father's estate, which at any rate proves 
that the eldest at that time must have been still 
a minor, or under the age of five-and-twenty. 
Apart from his wife's dowry, of which we have 
no knowledge, Memlinc's circumstances were 
then already much above the ordinary, for in 
1480 out of the 247 wealthiest citizens only ^^40 
were taxed at higher rates, and it is on record 
that in the same year he purchased a large stone 
house and two smaller adjacent ones on the east 
side of the main street that leads from the 
Flemish Bridge to the ramparts, in a quarter of 
the town much affected by artists, and within 
the Parish of Saint Giles, beneath the spreading 
trees of whose peaceful God's acre he was to find 
an abiding resting-place some fourteen years 
later, by the side of his old friend the miniaturist 
William Vrelant, who predeceased him by 
some thirteen years, to be joined there in after 
years by many another eminent artist, such as 
John Pr6vost, Lancelot Blondeel, Peter Pourbus, 
and Antony Claeissens. 

That he was a busy man the record of works 
that have come down to us from this decade 



PLATE v.— MARTIN VAN NIEUWENHOVE. 

The companion of the painting reproduced in Plate I., and is in 
the Hospital of Saint John. 



MEMLINC 41 

alone amply testifies. The "Saint John the 
Baptist," in the Royal Gallery at Munich (1470) ; 
the exquisite little diptych "The Blessed Virgin 
and Child," in the Louvre, painted (c. 1475) for 
John Du Celier, a member of the Guild of 
Merchant Grocers, whose father was a member 
of the Council of Flanders ; the panel in the 
National Gallery, which we reproduce; the 
magnificent altarpiece in the Royal Museum at 
Turin painted for William Vrelant (1478) ; the 
famous triptych executed for the high altar 
of the church attached to the Hospital of Saint 
John at Bruges (1479) ; and the triptych " The 
Adoration of the Magi" presented to the 
Hospital by Brother John Floreins (1479), all 
belong to this period : while with the year 1480 
are associated the portraits of William Moreel 
and his wife, in the Royal Gallery at Brussels; 
that of one of their daughters as the Sibyl 
Sambetha, in Saint John's Hospital ; the marvel- 
lous composition in the Royal Gallery at Munich, 
"Christ the Light of the World," painted to the 
order of Peter Bultinc, a wealthy citizen of 
Bruges and a member of the Guild of Tanners ; 
and the triptych "The Dead Christ mourned by 
His Mother," in Saint John's Hospital — let alone 



42 MEMLINC 

the numerous other works attributed to him but 
not authenticated or which have been lost. The 
bare record, however, conveys but a feeble idea of 
the immensity of the labour this output involved. 
The panel in the National Gallery, which may 
be ascribed to 1475, arrests our attention for the 
moment. It presents to us the Blessed Virgin 
and Child in attitudes closely corresponding to 
those in the earlier Donne triptych, but both are 
more pleasing figures in respect of pose, the atti- 
tude of the Madonna in particular being less con- 
strained and the expression happier and more 
natural. The figure of the angel too has gained 
in gracefulness. The donor under the patronage 
of Saint George appeals to one as a living 
personality. Of these two figures a lady critic 
complains that they are " characteristic examples 
of Memlinc^s inability to depict a really manly 
man " ; and she endeavours to give greater point 
to this criticism by contrasting the painter*s 
methods with those of John van Eyck, wholly of 
course to the disadvantage of the former. In 
the present case the identity of the donor remains 
a mystery: he may not have been the really 
manly man the idealist would require, and also 
he may have been the man of reverent and sweet 



MEMLINC 43 

disposition revealed to us in this portrait. It is 
for the softening and idealisation of the face from 
the reality, however, that fault is commonly found 
with Memlinc as a portrait-painter. But, after 
all, what is this idealisation of the subject but 
the highest aim and truest concept of art ? It is 
no difficult matter for the competent painter to 
produce a counterpart of the outward flesh with 
all its peculiarities, even to the last wrinkle and 
the least significant blemish, and be awarded the 
palm for "stern realism"; but to conceive the 
inner soul of the man, to seize and fix that 
conception on panel or canvas, surely that is the 
higher art? It is true that in the men whom 
Memlinc portrayed there is a marked similarity 
of expression, arising obviously from the fact 
that they are usually pictured in an attitude of 
devotion, and that in the frame of mind this 
attitude imposed they suffered some loss of 
workaday individuality. But surely it is not to 
Memlinc's discredit that his clients were of the 
devotional order? Nor is the criticism of the 
Saint George as mild and effeminate any more to 
the point ; for when the appeal is from Memlinc 
to Van Eyck one is forcibly reminded of the 
votive picture of the Virgin and Child by that 



44 MEMLINC 

master in the Town Gallery at Bruges, in which 
we have the donor under the patronage of a Saint 
George whom for sheer inanity of expression and 
utter awkwardness of demeanour it would be 
hard to beat. And yet in neither instance, we 
may safely assume, was the figure the type the 
artist would have created for the valiant knight 
of the legend. Apart from this, a careful study 
of Memlinc^s many works will reveal to the most 
exacting a sufficiency of evidence that his art 
was equal to any demands that might have been 
made of it ; of his preference for the milder and 
more religious type of man, however, there can 
be no doubt. 

It were idle to speculate as to the length of 
time Memlinc devoted to the production of his 
pictures, seeing the meagreness of the data 
afforded us for the purpose. His peculiar tech- 
nique, however, which avoided the accentuation 
of light and shade, and thereby simplified the 
scheme of colouring, lent itself to rapid execution. 
Even so, paintings like the altarpiece in the 
Royal Museum at Turinr and that in the Royal 
Gallery at Munich must have made heavy calls 
on his time through a number of years. As 
examples of the powers and wealth, of resource of 



MEMLINC 45 

the artist these masterpieces stand almost alone. 
The architectural setting of the former, a wholly 
imaginary Jerusalem, is so contrived as to assist 
in the most natural manner the precession of the 
Gospel story from the triumphal entry into the 
Holy City to the Resurrection and the manifesta- 
tion of Christ to Mary Magdalene. As without 
conscious effort the eye is guided along the line 
of route followed by the Redeemer, one treads in 
imagination in the Divine footsteps through the 
hosannahing multitude in the extreme back- 
ground on the right, and turning to the left 
arrives at the Temple steps in time to witness the 
casting out of the buyers and sellers ; descending 
thence^ and bearing gradually towards the right 
a turn of the street leads one to the scene of the 
Last Supper, which Judas has already left to 
confer with the priests under a neighbouring 
portico as to the betrayal of his Master; and 
eventually one arrives at the Garden of Olives, to 
be confronted in rapid succession with the Agony 
and the picture of the sleeping disciples, the 
rush of armed men, Judas' traitorous kiss and 
Peter in the act of striking at Malchus. Follow- 
ing the multitude for some little distance one 
reaches the heart of the city, where the 



46 MEMLINC 

successive incidents of the Passion are grouped 
each under a separate portico showing on to a 
spacious courtyard in the very centre of the 
panel-^Christ before Pilate and his expostulating 
wife, the Flagellation, the Crowning with thorns 
and mocking of Our Lord, Christ before Herod 
and the Ecce Homo, with_the preparations for 
tiie Crucifixion going on the while in the open 
courtyard. These completed, the mournful pro- 
cession passes under a palace gateway into the 
forefront of the picture, bears to the left and 
issues through the city gate, where the Mother 
of Christ, the beloved disciple, and the holy 
women have gathered together, into the open 
country, where at the foot of the hilly way that 
skirts the city walls Simon of Cyrene comes 
forward to relieve the fallen Saviour in the burden 
of the Cross ; presently the procession is lost to 
view at a bend of the road only to reappear on 
the slopes of Calvary, which is triplicated here 
for the purpose of re-enacting the three scenes 
associated with it — of the Nailing to the Cross, 
of the Death of Our Lord, and of the Descent 
from the Cross. Lower down on the left we 
assist at the Entombment and at the Deliverance 
of the Just from Limbo, and further away we 



MEMLINC 47 

witness the Resurrection and, in the far back- 
ground, the manifestation of Our Lord to Mary 
Magdalene. Viewed as a whole it is a marvel of 
composition enhanced by a brilliancy of colouring, 
and every scene in it a delicately finished 
miniature. Apart from the architectural setting, 
the three Calvaries, and the duplication of the 
Holy Sepulchre imposed by the necessity of 
representing both the Entombment and the 
Resurrection, the most captious can discover 
nothing to abate the enthusiastic admiration 
which this altarpiece excites, or one's wonder at 
the masterful manner in which Memlinc has 
succeeded in developing the story of the Passion 
in some twenty scenes necessitating the intro- 
duction of considerably over two hundred figures, 
apart from the animal and bird life that 
supplements them, within the narrow compass of 
a panel only fifty-five centimetres high by ninety 
centimetres in breadth! The extreme corners of 
the foreground are filled in with exquisite 
portraits of the donors, the miniaturist William 
Vrelant and his wife, for whom one feels that 
Memlinc has tried to excel himself in this master- 
work. 

Scarcely less surprising as a composition is 



48 MEMLINC 

the story in bright luminous colours told in the 
Munich altarpiece, a work of considerably larger 
dimensions (80 by 180 centimetres), commonly 
described as " The Seven Joys of Mary," but for 
which the more appropriate title has been 
suggested of " Christ the Light of the World." It 
is the story of the manifestation of Our Lord to 
the Gentile world in the persons of the Wise Men 
from the East, closely correspondent, as was 
Memlinc^s wont, to the Gospel narrative and 
Christian tradition, except perhaps in this one 
respect, that the artist's innate love of moving 
water has suggested to him the original conceit 
of depicting the departing Magi as setting sail 
for their distant homes across the boundless 
waters. This portion of the background and 
the greater wealth of surrounding landscape 
greatly relieves the architectural setting, which 
is not so overpowering as in the Turin altarpiece. 
The composition too, as becomes the subject, 
is teeming with the joy of life in varying aspects. 
Here we have the gay cavalcade with streaming 
banners galloping along the road to Bethlehem, 
there the shepherds peacefully tending their flocks 
on the grassy slope, their watch beguiled by the 
strains of a bagpipe; here the scene at the 



PLATE VI.— MARTYRDOM OF SAINT URSULA. 

This forms the eighth panel of the famous shrine, completed in 
1489 for the Hospital of Saint John at Bruges, where it may be seen. 
The archer is a portrait of the celebrated Dschem, brother of the 
Sultan Bajazet, taken prisoner at Rhodes in 1482, copied from a 
portrait in the possession of Charles the Bold. 



/ 



•P^: 



-:^ 



% 



MEMLINC 51 

Manger, all love and devotion, and the running 
stream nigh by at which the horses are being 
watered the while the Magi are making their 
act of adoration, there the kings with their 
retinues triumphantly riding away over the rocky 
heights ; anon we have the sequence of miracles 
that attended the Flight of the Holy Family into 
Egypt — the wheat that grew and ripened in a 
day, the . date-palm bending to offer its fruit to 
the Virgin Mother resting beneath its shade 
while the unsaddled ass grazes as it lists and 
Joseph fetches water from a neighbouring 
spring ; elsewhere the risen Christ appearing to 
the fishing apostles, and far beyond across the 
waters in the background the setting of the sun 
in all its glory. Every scene that lends itself to 
the treatment has its beauty enhanced by the 
beauties of Nature. The one sorrowful incident 
in the whole story, the Massacre of the 
Innocents, is a mere suggestion of this cruel 
episode. Memlinc's nature shrank from the 
interpretation of evil, and in this particular 
instance has admirably succeeded in commemorat- 
ing the incident of the massacre without involving 
it in any of its horror. A pleasing innovation 
may also be noticed in the treatment of his 



52 MEMLINC 

portraits of donors, Peter Bultinc and his son 
being introduced as devout spectators of the 
scene presented in the stable at Bethlehem, 
which they humbly contemplate through an 
opening in the wall. **The more one examines 
this picture, the greater one's astonishment 
at the amount of work which Memlinc has 
lavished on it, at the exquisite beauty of the 
various scenes, the marvellous ingenuity dis- 
played in separating them one from another, and 
the skill with which they balance and are 
brought into one harmonious whole." 

The Turin altarpiece was completed not 
later than 1478, in which year William Vrelant 
gave it to the Guild of Saint Luke and Saint John 
(Stationers) ; the Munich one at any rate some 
time before Easter 1480, at which date the 
donor presented it to the Guild of Tanners. 
But already then Memlinc had undertaken the 
triptych in the Hospital of Saint John painted 
to the order of its spiritual master. Brother 
John Floreins, acknowledged to be technically 
the most perfect work he completed before 
the end of 1480; and also the larger triptych 
for the high altar of the Hospital church. 



VI 

MASTERPIECES AND DEATH 

MEANWHILE the contest in which the 
burghers of Bruges had become in- 
volved through the disputes between 
the States of Flanders and Maximilian over the 
guardianship of his son, was precipitating the 
decay of the town which the relentless forces of 
Nature had long since decreed. As early as 1410 
the navigation of the great haven of the Zwijn had 
become impeded, and so rapidly had the silting 
up advanced that before the close of the century 
no vessel of any considerable draught was able 
to enter the port of Damme. Entirely engrossed 
in the safeguarding of the remnant of their 
privileges, no serious effort was made to 
combat the mischief, and in the end Bruges 
found herself absolutely cut off from the sea. 
On the other hand, in the enjoyment of peace 
and the greater security it engendered, Antwerp 
was slowly asserting herself and gradually 

53 



54 MEMLINC 

attracting to her quays the merchant princes 
from the littoral of the Zwijn; ancj^as commerce 
imperceptibly gravitated towards the city by 
the Scheldt the foreign consuls one by 
one forsook the doomed emporium of the 
Hanseatic League. Memlinc, pursuing the 
even tenor of his life, continued to produce 
with unabated ardour and undiminished skill, 
and with this period — the last fourteen years 
of his life — is associated the most celebrated 
of all his works, the marvellous Shrine of Saint 
Ursula, the gem of the priceless collection 
preserved to this day in the old chapter-room 
of Saint John's Hospital. When this master- 
piece was first undertaken we are not in a 
position to say, but it was completed in 1489, 
and on the 21st day of October in that year the 
relics for whose safe keeping it had been 
designed were deposited within it. But to the 
eighties belong other memorable productions. 
In 1484 was finished^ the interior of the altar- 
piece for the Moreel chantry in the Church of 
Saint James, now housed in the Town Gallery 
at Bruges ; in 1487 was painted the portrait of 
a man preserved in the Gallery of the Offices at 
Florence, and also was completed the wonder- 



MEMLINC 55 

fill diptych for Martin van Nieuwenhove, 
whose portrait we reproduce as the finest 
example of Memlinc's work in that particular 
department of art; and in 1490 the finishing 
touches were put to the picture in the Louvre 
of the Madonna and Child, to whom saintly 
patrons are presenting the family of James 
Floreins, a younger brother of the donor of the 
triptych picturing the Adoration of the Magi 
which, as we have seen, was completed in 1479. 
But work, which always spelt happiness to 
Memlinc, meant something more to him in this 
decade of his career. Death in 1487 robbed him 
of his wife. One pictures to oneself the bereaved 
artist seeking solace from the grief of his 
widowed home in intensified application to his 
art. The refining discipline of sorrow was 
exercising its softening influence on a nature 
of whose religious fervour and deep piety his 
life-work is an abiding testimony. Absorbed in 
the production of the Shrine of Saint Ursula, 
does not the instinct of human sympathy suggest 
to us the artist spending himself in this in- 
imitable work for a monument of his love worthy 
of the memory of the helpmate who had devoted 
her life to enhance the happiness of his own, 



56 MEMLINC 

herein seeking and finding surcease of the sorrow 
that now overshadowed his life, the burden of 
work balancing the l^urden of grief? And what 
a monument ! So familiar is the legend and the 
unique interpretation of it he has left us, one feels 
it would be a work of supererogation to dwell on 
the story. But the treatment, viewed by the 
light of Memlinc's bereavement, discloses fresh 
beauties in every panel. Critics have dwelt on 
the unreality of the death scenes in this shrine. 
Memlinc, as we have had sufficient occasion to 
observe, shrank from the painful expounding of 
evil. But for him death had no terrors: it was 
but the passing over to the ineffable reward of a 
well-spent life, and this innate feeling he conveys 
to us in the placid acceptance of death by Saint 
Ursula and her virgin band as but a stepping 
across the threshold to everlasting bliss. These 
critics, on the contrary, look for the betrayal of 
fear and anguish, for the manifestation of human 
suffering: but, like the martyrs of the early 
Church, we find these victims of the ruthless 
Huns not alone meeting their death in a spirit 
of resignation, but welcoming it with abound- 
ing peace and a joyful self-surrender, strong 
in the hope and faith of the hereafter: as the 



MEMLINC 57 

artist himself was wistfully looking forward to 
the day and the hour that would reunite him 
there to the one he had loved best on earth. 

Turning to the other works of this period 
which we have mentioned, the Moreel altarpiece 
arrests our attention. Apart from the particular 
friendship which linked him with William 
Vrelant and the brothers Floreins, few men were 
more likely to attract him than the donor of this 
painting. The great-grandson of a Savoyard, 
Morelli, who had settled in Bruges in 1336, 
William Moreel, a member of the Corporation of 
Grocers, after filling various civic offices, was 
elected burgomaster of Bruges in 1478, and again 
in the troublous days of 1483. His standing is 
sufficiently attested by the record that in 1491 
only ten of his fellow-citizens were taxed at a 
higher rate. Able and strong-willed, a capable 
financier and ardent politician, he was ever fore- 
most in defending the rights and liberties of his 
country, and to such purpose that Maximilian, 
who had imprisoned him in 1481, refused when he 
made his peace with the States of Flanders, on 
28th June 1485, to include him in the general 
amnesty. He retired to Nieupoii:, but returned 
to Bruges in 1488 and was chosen as treasurer of 



58 MEMLINC 

the town, and in July 1489 was presented by the 
magistrates with the sum of £100 in recognition 
of services rendered. Reference has been made 
to the independent portraits of Moreel, his wife, 
and one of his daughters. In the triptych under 
notice the whole family are gathered together, 
the father and his five sons, his wife Barbara 
van Vlaenderberch and their eleven daughters. 
The donor's head is probably a copy of the 
Brussels panel, assuming that at the time it was 
painted, Moreel was still in prison ; while that of 
his wife, more careworn and aged, bears testi- 
mony to the anxiety occasioned her by her 
husband's confinement. This painting, too, will 
afford the critics who love to find fault with the 
Flemish school for its alleged inability to do 
justice to the winsomeness of child life an op- 
portunity of reconsidering their judgment by the 
light of the Infant Jesus whom Saint Christopher 
is bearing across the ferry, and once more we 
are met in every portion of the picture with 
brilliant exemplifications of the artist's special 
aptitude for interpreting the beauties of Nature. 
Scarcely less attractive, and in some respects 
even more interesting, is the celebrated diptych 
associated with the name of Martin van Nieuwen- 



PLATE VII.-AN OLD LADY. 

This fine portrait, with its companion, was formerly in the Meazza 
collection at Milan, dispersed in 1884. It was exhibited at Bruges 
in 1902 (No. 71), since when it has been purchased by the Louvre, 
where it is now to be seen. The companion portrait is in the Berlin 
Museum. 



MEMLINC 6i 

hove. Here we have a departure from Mem- 
line's usual practice, which was to present the 
Blessed Virgin and Child in an open portico, the 
artist picturing them in a room amply lighted by- 
windows, the upper portions of which are 
adorned with pictures in stained glass, while the 
lower halves, mostly thrown open, reveal in- 
imitable scenes of country Hfe; moreover, a 
convex mirror at the back of Our Lady reflects 
the depicted scene of the interior. The donor 
belonged to a noble family long settled in Bruges, 
evidently a man of great promise, for after being 
elected a member of the Town Council in 1492, he 
was chosen burgomaster in 1497 at the early age 
of thirty-three. Unfortunately he passed away in 
the prime of life a short three years later. The 
painting dates from 1487, and the portrait is 
Memlinc's masterpiece in that branch of art. 

The panel in the Louvre ranks equally with 
this production, it^ chief feature being the 
marvellous grouping of the donors and their 
family. James Floreins, younger brother of John, 
the spiritual master of Saint John's Hospital, 
belonged to one of the wealthiest of the Bruges 
guilds, the Corporation of Master Grocers, among 
whose members (John Du Celier and William 



62 MEMLINC 

Moreel to wit) Memlinc found such generous 
patrons of his art. He had married a lady of the 
Spanish Quintanaduena family, who bore him 
nineteen children: the eldest son, a priest, is 
represented in furred cassock and cambric 
surplice, and the second daughter in the habit of 
a Dominican nun. This picture is another but 
wholly different departure from the setting 
usually affected by the artist in his presentment 
of the Virgin and Child. The throne here is 
erected in the middle of the nave of a round- 
arched church, a rood-screen of five bays shutting 
off the choir. The north transept porch, is 
adorned with statues of the Prophets, the south 
portal with others of the Apostles. The difficulty 
of grouping so large a family in the circumscribed 
space about the throne is obviated with con- 
summate skill, the father and two eldest sons on 
the one side, and the mother and two eldest 
daughters on the other, being placed well in the 
foreground, while the younger members of either 
sex are disposed in the aisles, the upstanding 
figures of Saint James the Great and Saint 
Dominic beside the throne filling the void on 
either side which this arrangement entailed. 
Even here, with the limited opportunities the 



MEMLINC 63 

architectural setting affords, Memlinc will not be 
denied his predilection for landscape ornamenta- 
tion, two delightful glimpses of country life 
enchanting the eye as it wanders down the 
transepts and out on to their porches. 

If in these pages attention has perhaps been 
somewhat too exclusively devoted to the 
portraits of men left us by Memlinc, obviously 
enough because of the greater interest they 
excite by the stories known of their careers, it 
must not be supposed that he proved himself less 
skilful as a portrayer of women. As a rule the 
wives of the donors in his pictures are of the 
homely type, but they appeal to us none the less 
as typical examples of the womankind of a 
burgher community in which the virtues of the 
home were cherished and sedulously cultivated. 
Two exceptionally fine specimens of male and 
female portraiture, which most likely belong to 
this period, are the bust of an old man in the 
Royal Museum at Berlin and that of an aged 
lady, recently acquired by the Louvre for the 
very substantial sum of 200,000 francs. If, as 
has been suggested, these are portraits of 
husband and wife, it is regrettable that they 
should have strayed so far apart, but the latter 



64 MEMLINC 

we have selected for illustration as perhaps 
the best available example to demonstrate 
Memlinc's aptitude for the interpretation of the 
dignity of old age in woman. 

More amazing perhaps than the magnitude of 
the work Memlinc achieved is the dearth of 
information concerning him that has been 
vouchsafed to us. Until i860 nothing whatever 
was known of the story of his life, and what has 
been since discovered is almost entirely due to 
the painstaking researches of one or two 
individuals. These revealed the fact of 
Memlinc's marriage, the name of the woman he 
chose for his wife and that of her father, the fact 
that she bore him three sons — John, Cornelius, 
and Nicolas — the year of his wife*s death, the 
record of house property bought by him, the date 
of his own death and his place of burial, and this 
is the sum total of the material at our disposal, 
apart from his paintings, with which to build up 
his biography. The Shrine that is his master- 
piece once completed, the only other dated work 
of which we have any knowledge is the polyptych 
altarpiece which hangs in the Greverade chantry 
of the Cathedral at Lubeck. This bears on its 
frame the date 1491 ; but the execution of the 



MEMLINC 65 

painting is very unequal, and it appears probable 
that the greater part is the work of pupils. 
Perhaps Memlinc felt that he had lived his life, 
and was content to lay aside palette and brush in 
the consciousness that he had given the world of 
his best. May-be, too, as the years began to tell, 
there grew a yearning for the privacy of home 
life in more intimate communion with the 
motherless children from whom he himself was 
soon to be parted. All too speedily the end 
came, for he passed away on the nth of August 
1494, at a ripe old age considering the average 
length of days meted out to man in his time. ' 



VII 

EFFACEMENT AND VINDICATION 
OF HIS TYPES 

BRUGES, the scene of his stupendous 
lifework and his home for nearly the last 
thirty years of his life, was fast settling 
down to utter stagnation and the general poverty 
it superinduced. One needs to realise the 
measure of her decay to understand the possi- 
bility of such a personality as Memlinc's fading 
from the public memory. True, he had founded 
no school to perpetuate his art and cherish his 
name and reputation. Twice we find mention of 
apprentices in the register of the Guild of 
Painters — a John Verhanneman, inscribed on 
8th May 1480, and a Passchier Van der Meersch, 
in 1483. Neither attained the rank of master- 
painter. Nor is it known that any of the three 
sons inherited their father's talent or followed his 
profession. However, we remember that Rum- 
wold De Doppere, writing of his death in the 

66 



MEMLINC 67 

year it occurred, asserted that he was "then 
considered to be the most skilful and excellent 
painter in the whole of Christendom," while Van 
Vaernewyck, as late as 1562, tells of the houses 
of Bruges being still filled with paintings by 
Memlinc among other great artists. And yet so 
completely was he forgotten within a century of 
his death that Van Mander, when preparing his 
biographies of Netherlandish painters (published 
in 1604), could only learn that he was in his day 
"a celebrated master who flourished before the 
time of Peter Pourbus" — that is, before 1540! 
Neglect and disdain followed speedily on forget- 
fulness, and the scattering of his priceless works 
commenced. The magnificent picture of the 
Passion of Christ in the Turin Museum, which 
adorned the altar of the chapel of the Guild of 
Saint John and Saint Luke in the Church of 
Saint Bartholomew until 1619, was then removed 
to a side wall, and five years later sold to make 
room for an organ ! The no less famous painting 
"Christ the Light of the World," which graced 
the altar of the chapel of the Guild of Tanners in 
the Church of Our Lady until 1764, was then 
removed to the house of the dean, who a few 
years later sold it to a picture-dealer at Antwerp 



68 MEMLINC 

for 20 1 ! And so these masterpieces were made 
the sport and spoil of picture-dealers and traffickers 
in curiosities. Under Spanish rule further toll 
was levied on the art treasures of Bruges, and of 
what escaped the vulgar vandalism of the Calvin- 
ists, whose utter inability to create was only 
equalled by their senseless capacity for destruc- 
tion, the French revolutionaries, whose sense of 
the beautiful in art not all their irreligion had 
sufficed to stifle, claimed a considerable share. 
Fortunately the ultimate defeat of Napoleon made 
restitution in a measure possible, and so the 
Moreel triptych, seized on 23rd August 1794, and 
the Van Nieuwenhove diptych, carried off in the 
same month, were recovered in 1815. Still the fact 
remains that Bruges at this date possesses only 
seven of Memlinc's works. The remainder are 
dispersed among the galleries of the Continent — 
in Brussels and Antwerp; in Paris; in Madrid; 
in Rome, Florence, Turin, and Venice ; in Vienna 
and Buda-Pesth; in Berlin, Frankfort, Munich, 
Danzig, Lubeck, Hermannstadt, and Woerlitz; 
and at the Hague; while England boasts of 
three pictures, two in the National Gallery and 
one at Chatsworth. 

Although MemUnc founded no school, the 



PLATE VIII.-OUR LADY AND CHILD, SAINT GEORGE 
AND THE DONOR. 

This pamting-, formerly in the Gierlingf collection, was purchased 
by Mr J. P. Weyer of C51n for 450 thalers, and at the sale of his 
pictures in 1862, by Mr O. M'dndler for 4600 thalers for the National 
Gallery. 



MEMLINC 71 

masters of his day and others who settled 
in Bruges in the sixteenth century were to 
a very appreciable extent influenced by his 
art. Gerard David, Albert Cornelis, Peter 
Pourbus, and the Claeissens all felt its impress, 
and if the traditions of the old school survived in 
Bruges to a later period than in other centres, 
and well into the seventeenth century, it was 
mainly through the instrumentality of these 
painters. In contrasting the lives of mediaeval 
and modern artists one cannot escape a feeling 
of regret that the former should so utterly have 
neglected the literary side of their calling. What 
a revelation to us would have been the discovery 
of the personal recollections of but one of these 
great masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries, and what a world of trouble they would 
have saved the art students of after generations ! 
But seemingly the demand for this class of litera- 
ture had not then arisen, while the craving for 
notoriety which would have compelled an effort 
of this description was altogether foreign to the 
single-minded nature of a school whose art was 
to its exponents something more than the realisa- 
tion of worldly ambition or the satisfaction of a 
vulgar lust of gain. There could have been no 



72 MEMLINC 

hankering after either in the type of man 
revealed to us by the lifework of Memlinc. And 
so it was that with the reawakened interest in 
mediaeval painting which made itself manifest in 
the nineteenth century the services of the 
archaeologist had to be requisitioned. Difficult 
indeed would it be to exaggerate the immensity 
of the task imposed upon him. The sifting from 
the mass of popular fiction which had gathered 
round Memlinc's name the few grains of truth 
embedded in it, the ceaseless delving among 
municipal and ecclesiastical archives for a chance 
record of some incident in his career, the slow 
process of authenticating the genuine from the 
ruck of doubtful and spurious works associated 
with his name, half a century of unswerving 
devotion to the task has not yet brought us 
within measurable reach of its accomplishment. 
Every day, so to speak, brings to light some new 
fact, often compelling a revision of conclusions 
which in its absence were sufficiently justified. 

Thus it happened that the identification of 
the donors of the "Last Judgment" at Danzig, in 
1902, led to the recognition of this earliest ex- 
ample of Memlinc's art. And so no doubt will it 
happen again, each fresh discovery amplifying the 



MEMLINC 73 

knowledge necessary to remove doubt as to the 
authenticity of attributed works. But even so, 
what an advance from half a century since, when 
the personality of the painter was but the sport of 
idle legend, and loomed vaguely on the horizon in 
the distorted outlines of a loathsome caricature ! 
If dearth of information is a powerful incentive 
to the imagination, then the evolution of the 
Memlinc legend goes far to establish its potency. 
An obscure seventeenth-century tradition had it 
that Memlinc painted a picture for the Hospital 
of Saint John in grateful recognition of services 
rendered to him by the Brethren of that charit- 
able foundation : from which indeterminate report 
grew a tale of a dissolute soldier of fortune spared 
from the shambles of the field of Nancy dragging 
his wounded and diseased body to the Hospital 
gates, and beguiling the weary hours of a long 
convalescence there in the production of a 
masterpiece of painting in token of his gratitude. 
As an unconnected story for the amusement of 
simple-minded folk the fable is not without merit 
of a sort, but what a libel on the Christian artist 
who transcends all the painters of his age in the 
interpretation of deep religious feeling, and the 
shaping of whose whole life must have been a 



74 MEMLINC 

novitiate to this end ! We have travelled a long 
road since the days when this preposterous 
legend was exploded. True, the exhumation of 
Memlinc^s individuality from the burial-ground of 
lost memories has been a slow and arduous 
process ; but the rich store of knowledge now at 
our command is an abundant testimony to the 
patience of the experts who have garnered it. 

It is not given to us to be all swayed in the 
same way or to the same extent by Art in any of 
its forms; but few who have been led to contem- 
plate the masterpieces of the Netherlandish school 
will fail to pay the tribute of admiration these 
wonderworks evoke, and bear testimony to their 
educational value. For Hans Memlinc it is not 
claimed that he surpassed in each department of 
his art all the other painters who helped to build 
up the fame of the Netherlandish school : in some 
material respects his methods differed widely 
from theirs, and he elaborated a technique 
distinctly his own. It is not likely to be imputed 
that his sedulous avoidance of the marked 
contrasts of light and shade was a confession 
of inability to realise their treatment, though 
possibly he may be thought by some to have 
weakly followed the line of least resistance. Of 



MEMLINC 75 

course, Memlinc, like every other great artist of 
his age, had his limitations. His knowledge of 
anatomy naturally was not equal to the exact 
requirements of science, the pose of his figures 
not absolutely conformable to the ideals of the 
dilettante in respect of grace of carriage or 
correctness of deportment. Though critics con- 
trast the simplicity of his art with the grandeur 
of style of Van Eyck, commonly with some 
predilection for the latter, yet it is possible for 
one to be subjugated by it and still feel to the 
full the fascination of the tender beauty inherent 
in the former. In his conceptions of the great 
mysteries of the Christian faith, in the character- 
isation of the many saints he portrayed, and 
above all in his varied presentation of womanhood 
he certainly excelled. In the " Last Judgment " at 
Danzig we have probably the least successful of 
his great efforts. The conception is not original, 
though admittedly one of the finest produced up 
to that time ; also it is his earliest extant work, 
and in the style of a master from whose con- 
trolling influence he had not yet emancipated 
himself. But the fault lies rather with the 
subject. Many an artist has laboured at it, not 
always perhaps from choice ; but the painter has 



76 MEMLINC 

yet to be born who will produce a convincing 
picture of that unrealised tragedy. Any attempt 
that falls short of conveying to the mind and soul 
of man the awe-full warning it should express 
necessarily bears the stamp of failure; and' 
when, as too often is the case, it but provokes a 
smile by reason of its incongruity, the effort it 
cost stands unjustified. Not that Memlinc's con- 
ception errs conspicuously in this sense : but it 
lacks conviction, and not all the beautiful work 
it exhibits can close our eyes to the fact. 

To the up-to-date art critic of the weekly press, 
steeped in modernity, all this grand religious 
art of the middle ages is but as the dead ashes 
of a fire that once glowed but has now lost its 
warmth ; or, to vary the simile, he con- 
temptuously relegates it to the scrap-heap of 
antiquated material as the useless remains of a 
"dead language"; little bethinking himself of 
the great underlying truth he was unconsciously 
voicing. For just as all succeeding literatures 
found their spring and inspiration in the 
magnificent literatures enshrined in the great 
dead languages of Rome and Greece, so like- 
wise has modern art, unconsciously if you will, 
but none the less assuredly, derived the essence 



MEMLINC 77 

of its loveliness from the mediaeval art it 
affects to despise. Art of any kind to be great 
must have realised its greatness through the 
vivifying power of the art that had gone before. 
Ex nihilo nihil fit. The impellent craving after 
realism of the materialistic school of to-day is but 
a perverted form of the love of truth which was 
the keynote of all mediaeval art, its cult of the 
sensuous but a depraved phase of a love of the 
beauty in virtue and godliness which characterised 
the latter: the great touch of faith is wholly 
wanting. In art as in all things human there is no 
finality; but the while Bruges subsists, though 
she were utterly bereft of all her picturesqueness 
and the wealth of architectural beauty that 
endears her to the artist mind, so long will that 
treasure-house of Memlinc's art, the small 
chapter-room in the Hospital of Saint John, 
continue to exercise its educating influence, 
and so long, because of it, will the old Flemish 
capital, though shorn of all its pristine glory, 
continue to be one of the most cherished shrines 
of the art pilgrims of the world. 



The plates are printed by Bi^mrosb dn Sons, Ltd., Derby and London 
The text at the Bali-antvnk Press, Edinburgh 



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